I’m always intrigued by people who are able to take the more complicated aspects of modern life into their own hands. Maybe that’s because outside of your basic paring knife and garden trowel, my own hands are pretty fumbly. The realm of natural building just amazes me.
Natural building involves using materials occurring in nature (and sometimes recycled materials) to construct homes and outbuildings. For example, back in Too Many Tons I posted a video featuring a DIY builder from Indiana making bricks from mud. Materials are sourced locally—perhaps clay from a neighbor who’s digging a pond, sand from a nearby excavation, straw from a local farmer.
Recently I discovered a British Columbia-based women’s collective specializing in cob building (using a mix of clay and straw). Meet the Mudgirls.
For the past seven years they’ve worked together as independent builders, doing seasonal work throughout the Vancouver Island area. Though they started with only about 10 days of work in the early years, many now make their main summer income from this work.
They’ve build cob ovens, cabins, sheds, fences, and outhouses. They also take their craft into conventional homes, using earthen plaster with beautiful results.
As a consensus-run group, they are trailblazing in other ways as well, showing a more egalitarian way to operate than the dominant paradigm’s business-as-usual. And they offer workshops at the most affordable rates in North America ($200 or less).
Mudgirl Rose Dickson, one of the founding members, was drawn to the collective because of her outlook as a feminist/environmentalist/artist. From the photos,* it’s clear that the Mudgirls’ work offers a creative outlet.
And these round structures are built to last, as witnessed by many such homes in England, still standing hundreds of years after their construction.
Not too long ago, a four-ton tree fell on a Mudgirl-built cob house—crashing through a bump-up of windows and earthen plaster and stopping at the cob wall. Rose reports, “No cracks in the wall from impact, and the guy who came to clear it off said a wooden house would have been crushed by the tree.”
Cob building is physically demanding and sometimes uncomfortable work (imagine a chilly spring day when you’re working in cold mud from sunup to sundown). But Rose relishes the chance to be outside, away from a desk, making something with her hands in the company of her dearest friends.
“If the weather’s cold, it can be kind of miserable,” she admits. “But if you’ve got a couple friends there who you’ve known for years and you’re joking and laughing, it makes it. That’s actually one key with natural building is the community. It takes more time, so the labor is a factor. But that’s part of why people do it together.”
This strikes me as the ultimate in do-it-with-others (DIWO). Has anyone out there had experience with communal natural building? I’d love to hear about it.
*Photos provided by Mudgirls.